Vodafone’s new UK enterprise director Anne Sheehan on her plans…
You Took Over as Enterprise Director for the UK in December. What was the Attraction?
From what I’ve seen in the last few months it’s clear to me that we’re perfectly placed to be a partner for businesses on their digital transformation journeys. (Gartner suggests digital transformation is the second biggest priority for CEOs, only behind growth.)
We have the fixed and mobile connectivity, and cutting-edge services and expertise to support organisations, whatever their size or industry. We’ve invested around £2 billion in our network and services over the last few years, with another £2 billion committed for the next few. The opportunity to work with our Enterprise customers to help them embrace the opportunity of digital transformation was what really excited me.
Do You Have Any Recent Examples?
Our strategic partnership with CityFibre is one example of our ongoing investment, where we will deliver fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) infrastructure to one million premises in 12 towns and cities by 2021.
We also recently completed the first test of new 5G spectrum across an existing live network between Manchester and our headquarters in Newbury; one of many steps we’re taking to bring 5G to the UK as soon as possible.
What are the Biggest Opportunities for UK Businesses in terms of Connectivity this Year?
UK businesses and public sector organisations need reliable, secure connectivity and smart, innovative technologies. 5G is on the horizon with tests already under way. This will of course deliver faster speeds and perhaps most importantly, will reduce latency.
This is really critical for applications like self-driving cars, remote surgery, gaming and VR/AR that require an instantaneous response. It will also increase bandwidth, catering for a myriad of devices and emerging technologies at once, even where demand is high.
The Internet of Things (IoT), a passion of mine, is another reason for real excitement among businesses. To give an example, with Admiral Insurance we provide the underlying telematics services for the Admiral LittleBox offer. What this actually means is we are providing a digital bridge between Admiral and its customers, helping them to get closer to them and to better understand their needs.
Which Emerging Tech Trend Excites You Most?
Personally, I love IoT. IDC suggests spending on IoT is set to grow 15% in 2018, so this is an area that represents a huge opportunity for businesses.
Our latest global IoT barometer found that 51% of IoT adopters say that the technology is increasing revenues or opening up new revenue streams. But, beyond that, it’s the applications that really can make a difference to people’s everyday lives.
Working with MooCall, for example, we used IoT technology to track the onset of calving in heffers. This is a non-invasive, tail-mounted sensor that gathers over 600 pieces of data a second and can accurately predict when a cow is most likely to calve. This means the farmer can be there to keep both cow and calf safe and spend less time manually checking their cows for calving.
On the high street, we’re working with Mango on a new programme to roll out digital fitting rooms to the company’s top stores worldwide. Designed around an IoT digital mirror, it gives shoppers a more personalised experience. Customers can easily scan tags in the fitting room and then contact shop floor staff directly from the mirror through a digital watch to request different sizes or colours.
We also recently announced trials of the world’s first IoT drone tracking technology. Commercial civilian drones are too small to be tracked by conventional radar, so can present a serious risk to pilots, particularly in the immediate vicinity of airfields and airports. This trial uses air traffic control drone tracking and safety technology.
Vodafone Scooped the Biggest Share of the 5G Spectrum in Ofcom’s Recent Auction. What’s the 5G Game Plan?
In addition to trying out the new 5G radio frequency, we recently partnered with Ericsson to successfully test a prototype device at King’s College in London. This was the first UK-based test to show 5G working independently from existing 4G technologies. And last year, we tested new 5G systems to help cars communicate with one another.
However, in practice our 4G networks are already being upgraded with technology that is bringing our customers some of the benefits of 5G sooner.
We’ve also deployed a technology known as Active Antennae or Massive MIMO (multiple-input, multiple-output) – a key building block for 5G – across our network. This technology uses multiple antennae to send and receive data more efficiently and boost capacity where lots of people connect to the network at the same time.
So, while building a full 5G network will take time, our network is already being enhanced to keep ahead of demand and bring our customers some of the benefits much sooner.
What’s the biggest challenge you face at Vodafone?
There are fast expanding digital industries located in towns and cities across the UK. Indeed, more than 50 places across the UK – from Tynemouth in the north to Bath in the south – have the potential to become ‘Digital Super Towns’, or leading tech hubs of the future, according to research commissioned by Vodafone. To fully exploit the benefits that technology brings to accelerate economic growth and boost productivity, all companies – including Vodafone – need a steady pipeline of digital talent.
Our latest report ‘Brain Gain’ sets out a series of policy recommendations that could help regions across the UK to attract and retain highly qualified people. With women now making up almost half of the UK’s workforce, they still continue to be under-represented in STEM fields – for example, just are women. Encouraging young girls to pursue a career in STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – is especially important today, for example, when many UK businesses face a shortfall in digital skills.